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What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?

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Fad diets come and go but intermittent fasting is one health trend that has refused to go away. If you’ve heard about it but are not sure if it’s for you, please continue reading. Today we’re talking about the health benefits of intermittent fasting. We’ll also tell you how you can make the most of it, how much weight you can expect to lose by intermittent fasting, and more. 

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a method of time-restricted eating. You cycle between eating and fasting based on the circadian rhythm (day-night cycle). The basic idea is to restrict your meals to an 8-hour or 10-hour period during the daytime. 

There are various ways to do intermittent fasting. The 16/8 method is fasting for 16 hours a day and eating 2-3 meals during an 8-hour window. In the 5:2 diet, you eat normally on 5 days of the week and practice calorie restriction (limit intake to under 600 calories per day) on 2 days of the week. Other methods include alternate day fasting or spontaneous meal skipping. Research suggests that intermittent fasting has various health benefits. 

What are the advantages of intermittent fasting?

Regulates hormones

When you don’t eat for a period of time, several events take place in the body, many of which are controlled by hormones. For example, the body makes stored fat available for important cell repair processes. Insulin levels drop, facilitating the burning of body fat. Levels of human growth hormone increase considerably, promoting muscle gain and fat burning. Many of the benefits of intermittent fasting are related to these hormonal changes and related diseases.

Promotes weight loss

One of the most common reasons for people to try this eating approach is because intermittent fasting may help you lose weight. Generally speaking, when you restrict eating to 8 or 10 hours a day, you eat fewer meals. Unless you compensate by overeating during your meals, you will consume fewer total calories per day. Also, intermittent fasting regulates hormone function, leading to increased breakdown of stored visceral fat (age-related belly fat), which promotes weight loss. Therefore, intermittent fasting works on both sides of the calorie equation—you consume fewer calories and you burn more fat.

Helps with diabetes prevention

The high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes are a result of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when your muscles and fat don’t respond well to the hormone and don’t use glucose in the blood for energy, leading to high blood sugar levels. Human studies suggest that intermittent fasting may help reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels, thus reducing diabetes risk.

Improves heart health and brain function

Intermittent fasting has beneficial effects on many of the risk factors for heart disease, such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, and inflammatory markers. More research in humans is needed, but the evidence suggests that intermittent fasting could be beneficial for many health conditions that affect the heart and brain. Some case studies have indicated that intermittent fasting is protective against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Possible role in cancer prevention 

Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells. Based on animal studies, intermittent fasting could help prevent cancer through its beneficial effects on metabolism. However, more human studies are needed. Intermittent fasting has also been found to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients.

How much weight can you lose in a month with intermittent fasting?

One of the most common reasons to do intermittent fasting is for weight loss. How much weight you can lose by doing intermittent fasting depends on several factors, including your metabolism calorie restriction, and physical activity. However, studies have shown that intermittent fasting may lead to a weight loss of 3-8% over a period of 3-24 weeks (1-6 months). If you weigh 200 pounds, a 5% weight loss will equal 10 pounds. 


In particular, it has been noted that the effects of intermittent fasting could lead to a reduction in visceral fat (age-related belly fat) with a 4-7% reduction in waist circumference.


Notably, a modest amount of weight loss (5-10% of your body weight) with intermittent fasting can have significant health benefits, including lower blood pressure, better blood sugar levels, and reduced blood cholesterol levels. This can decrease your risk of many chronic diseases related to obesity. Therefore, intermittent fasting can be an incredibly powerful weight loss tool when done right.

How often should you do intermittent fasting?

The method of intermittent fasting you choose can be repeated as often as you like, for the short term or long term. You can do it once or twice per week or every day, depending on your lifestyle and personal preference. Keep in mind that to get the maximum benefits of intermittent fasting, you will need to combine it with an overall healthy lifestyle to include:
 

  • Eating a sensible diet such as a Mediterranean-style diet that includes food such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats and avoids food such as refined grains and sugars. 
  • Avoiding snacking between meals or eating at nighttime.
  • Drinking water and avoiding sugary beverages to help with calorie restriction.
  • Remaining active throughout the day and mixing up your exercise routine with cardiovascular exercises (walking, running, swimming, cycling) and exercises that build muscle tone.
     

For the best effects, consider following a relatively simple form of intermittent fasting for weight loss. Limit the eight-hour fasting period to earlier in the day, such as 7 am to 3 pm or 9 am to 5 pm hours each day. Avoid eating after 6 pm or just before bed.

Is intermittent fasting bad?

Intermittent fasting is not bad if you do it right. It is a circadian rhythm, time-restricted eating plan that is a popular weight-loss method. Intermittent fasting can have many benefits in addition to helping you lose weight. However, it is essential that you are medically reviewed before starting any eating plan, including intermittent fasting. A doctor or nutritionist can help you determine if it is safe for you to do intermittent fasting and whether this eating approach is a sustainable way for you to lose weight. 

Medical advice is particularly important for people with advanced type 2 diabetes, people on medications for diabetes, those with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Such individuals should not attempt intermittent fasting without the close supervision of a physician. 

For most people, however, intermittent fasting may be an effective approach to weight loss with many additional health benefits.

References:

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
  2. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1905136
  3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2623528
  4. https://oce.ovid.com/article/01938924-201802000-00016/HTML
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S193152441400200X
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html#